Spurs season defining tactics: Out-to-in runs

Out-to-in runs have been a defining part of Spurs tactics under Mauricio Pochettino and one of his most lethal weapons.

It’s been Spurs best season in the Premier League era. Our highest finish, a tighter defence, slicker attacking and a +34 goal difference have all come about from having a defined philosophy, one that Mauricio Pochettino religiously preaches.

Mauricio’s mantra has come a long way since last season, but just what have we seen that has shaped our record setting campaign?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be looking at ten typical Pochettino tactical trends that have shaped our season and the way our team now plays.

We start with out-to-in runs. Its a tactic that Mauricio Pochettino has long used and one that he is honing with more weapons at his disposal at Spurs.

Out-to-in runs

An out-to-in run can take several forms. In its most simple state it comes from a wide player darting inside and popping up in a central position where defenders don’t expect him to be. But it can also come from a central player drifting wide to lose defensive coverage and then returning quickly back in to the middle. It is this dual movement of players that Mauricio Pochettino has used to great effect with Spurs.

Mauricio Pochettino teams have always had at least one player that makes out-to-in runs. Jay Rodriguez was that man at Southampton and he was the team’s top scorer in Pochettino’s only full season there.

What’s made Spurs more effective is that Mauricio Pochettino now has several players that can and are making these runs. Erik Lamela, Son Heung-Min, Nacer Chadli and even Dele Alli all get involved when selected in the side. This gives the team multiple attack points from which to loosen up the opposition.

What we’ve seen at Spurs are different forms of this run. Erik Lamela and Son Heung-Min are very direct from the wide positions, whereas Nacer Chadli is more of stealthy mover. Dele Alli, when he moves out from the centre and then back in, is the most direct and powerful runner of everyone.

Game-time tactical examples

There are several cases where the team will look for a player making out-to-in runs in order to attack a defence depending on their set up.

Sitting defence

A typical out-to-in run can see a swift burst of pace from a wide area loosen up a defence that is sat back.

Eric Dier finds Son Heung-Min making the out-to-in run here to catch Liverpool off guard.


Eric Dier picks out Son’s out-to-in run.

Often in these situations against teams that are sat back, the pass will come from either a deep position or a diagonal from the other side of the field. This is intended to catch the defence off guard and off balance.

Dier’s pass to Son was an example of the deeper ball finding the out-to-in runner. Christian Eriksen’s pass for Erik Lamela cutting from out-to-in for a header against Man Utd was a great example of the shorter diagonal ball.


Lamela sneaks in off the shoulder of the last defender.

In both cases the player is looking to make his run and receive the ball beyond the oppsoition’s back line to create a high-percentage chance of scoring.

Transition overload

It can also be used to overload an opposition’s centre backs after a turnover is created in their half. The defence in this situation is often off balance and not set. Son’s goal in Chelsea 2-2 Spurs at the Bridge was a prime example.

After the turnover, the ball carrier, Eriksen, draws the centre back, Terry, out. Harry Kane and Erik Lamela hold their lanes to spread the rest of the defenders to keep space for Son’s out-to-in run.


Eriksen finds Son racing through the inside left channel.

Transition switch

The other form of transition out-to-in run we often witness is a breakout that leads to the ball switching from one side of the pitch to the out-to-in runner on the other.

Erik Lamela’s goal in our 3-0 win over Man Utd was a textbook tactical Pochettino goal. The ball switched sides of the pitch twice as Kyle Walker swung it all the way over to Danny Rose. The left back then provided the second switch by driving it in low towards Erik Lamela making the out-to-in run from the right flank.


Rose gets forward to find Lamela’s out-to-in run.

This caught the Man Utd defence hopelessly off guard due to the multiple switches in the position of the ball in the attack and the movement of players flooding forward.

Central player out-to-in runs

The tactic is equally as versatile, and often at it’s best, when using a player that is supposed to be starting in a central position to make the run.

Toby Alderweireld’s long diagonals to Dele Alli, who will often drift out to the left and then dart back in to the centre, are one example.

Against Everton, Dele Alli had drifted out to the left flank to make this his starting position before making the out-to-in run. His movement catches right back Seamus Coleman just off guard enough to create the separation he needs to score.

Alli has been making these runs all season; you only have to think of his goals against West Brom or Southampton. It was noticeable how we were lacking with these types of runs from a player that was supposed to be starting centrally in the games he missed, as we simply don’t have a comparable player that can do this.

Out-to-in runs overall

Players making out-to-in runs are a Pochettino hallmark. It is central to his philosophy of overloading the centre by having players pop up in positions where an opposing defence wouldn’t expect them to normally be.

At Spurs he possibly has the greatest number of options at his disposal that he has ever had in his managerial career to carry this out. Lamela, Son, Chadli and Alli are the main options, but we are yet to fully see what Clinton N’Jie and Josh Onomah can truly add in this department.

How Pochettino develops the tactic will be one thing to watch for next season. In the shorter term, it is the question of if he invests over the summer in a player that can make the out-to-in runs from a central starting position in the way that Dele Alli has been?

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3 Responses to Spurs season defining tactics: Out-to-in runs

  1. MurphyN 25th May 2016 at 3:57 pm #

    Nice analysis as always- and looking forward to more. There are a lot of stats floating around at the end of the season and one caught my eye.
    Given Poch’s famous emphasis on getting the fullbacks forward – and on Walker & Rose’s buccaneering displays this season- I was surprised how few assists they had – I think 3 each, is that right? Far fewer than, say, Lamela.
    Do you think they are not intended to deliver the final ball? Or have they just been unlucky? Might there be more creation from these two next time around?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 25th May 2016 at 6:06 pm #

      Nice spot MurphyN. Both Rose and Walker do have 3 recorded assists in the Premier League by OPTA this season (Davies has 2 and Tripper 1). This does paint a certain picture that our full backs are not productive enough. There are two things to consider though. The first is that if an opponent deflects or even gets the slightest of knicks on a cross or pass then an assist is not recorded, which is a bit harsh, especially if the ball is not even deviated.

      The second is that if you look at chances created ie a pass or cross that leads to a shot, where deflections of the ball are included, our full backs are ranked extrmely well. In overall chances created by volume Walker is the 7th highest PL defender with 34 and Rose is 15th highest with 24 chances created.

      If you factor in minutes played because some defenders play a lot more than others then all four of our full backs fare even better. Trippier ranks 7th among PL defenders with a chance created every 81 minutes. Walker 10th with a chance created every 91 minutes. Davies is 11th with a chance created every 91.5 minutes annd Rose 12th with a chance created every 93 minutes.

      Among other PL teams, only Man City have more than one defender ranked in the top 20 for minutes per chance created. Kolorov is 2nd with a chance created every 63 minutes. Clichy 14th creating a chance every 95 minutes and Sagna 15th creating a chance every 95.3 minutes. Only Kolorov is better than our guys.

      So, i think that we are getting chance creation out of our full backs, but crosses and passes are either being deflected, so assists aren’t being recorded, or they are just not being finished off regularly enough.

  2. MurphyN 26th May 2016 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks Mark. Really encouraging numbers underlying the good performances; they’ve definitely played their way into the England team.